She found both a new life and a new language in Alabama.
First settling in Clay County, Valdez made friends with locals, one of whom helped teach her to speak and write English. Valdez, who turns 25 today, eventually moved to Oxford and spent the last three years of her life working in the area, most recently as a waitress at the Los Mexicanos restaurant.
"Since moving here, things have gone well," Valdez said in a thick Spanish accent. "I'm thinking about moving, but I might stay here ... it's nice and quiet here."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people who speak English as a second language has grown in the area in recent years. It's a trend that demographic and immigration experts say could lead to economic growth for the area.
Census data released Tuesday show that in 2011, 3.2 percent of the Calhoun County population, more than 3,500 people, spoke Spanish. That is an increase from 1.73 percent of residents, 1,819 people, who spoke the language here in 2000. Of those local Spanish speakers in 2011, 57.4 percent spoke English very well, the data show.
Meanwhile, though 3.2 percent of the total Alabama population spoke Spanish in 2011, only 54.3 percent of those spoke English very well, the data show.
Other, less-specific census data released Tuesday show there were approximately 408 county residents who spoke Asian languages in 2011, an increase from the 369 residents who spoke Asian languages in 2000.
The data also showed, however, that about 940 county residents spoke an Indo-European language as their first language in 2011, a decrease from the more than 1,000 who spoke such languages in 2000.
Suk Gonzalez, owner of Immanuel Oriental Market and Gifts in Anniston, moved from Korea with her children to the United States in 1992 because of her husband, who served in the military and was stationed at Ft. McClellan.
"I love this place," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said, however, that some of her fellow Koreans have moved elsewhere in recent years.
"It's reduced, due to the closing of McClellan and the job market," she said of the local Korean population.
Indeed, census data show that while the number of people speaking Asian languages in the area has increased overall, Korean speakers have declined from 225 to 201 between 2000 and 2010.
Yanyi Djamba, director of the Center for Demographic Research at Auburn University at Montgomery, said the number of immigrants overall has increased in Alabama in recent years despite the anti-illegal immigration law the state passed in 2011.
"This is because most immigrants who are here are legal or are temporary workers, therefore they are OK," Djamba said.
Djamba said the number of foreign-speaking Alabama residents can be seen as a positive development because most immigrants are committed to learning English to become more successful in American society.
"If there is anything to note, I would say that diversity of culture is a positive aspect of immigration in today's globalized society," he said.
Demetrios Papademetriou, president of Migration Policy Institute, immigration tends to boost local economies. According to its website, the MPI is a nonprofit think tank based in Washington D.C. that studies the movement of people worldwide.
"Most immigrants create rather than take away on average," Papademetriou said. "They contribute more to the economy than they take out."
Papademetriou said that immigrants, both legal and illegal, help local economies by paying taxes, such as sales taxes, and buying homes and cars.
Papademetriou noted that illegal immigrants can negatively affect an area by placing greater financial burdens on local education and health care systems. However, the effects on those systems are not immediate, he said.
"In the early stages, immigrants are far healthier and if they are illegal, they tend to be single ... it takes them a while before they become a family with children," he said.
Qing Taug, owner of Tokyo Express in Anniston, moved to the city just five months ago to take control of the business from his uncle, who had decided to retire. Taug said he immigrated to the United States from China, living the previous 15 years in Philadelphia. Taug said he is still adjusting to life in a smaller city.
"This is my first time down here, it's hard to get used to," Taug said.
Taug's also said raising his two small children, who were playing in the restaurant Tuesday afternoon, has been difficult since moving to the area.
"They grow, go to school and learn the like the American way ... but I talk about other ways are good too, but they won't listen," Taug said with a laugh.
Dr. Tatyana Sycheva, who treats cancers and blood-related disorders at Regional Medical Center's cancer center at McClellan, moved to the area in January 2012 from San Francisco to be closer to her family. Originally from Belarus, Sycheva came to the U.S. in 1996 with her family and worked hard to assimilate into American society and start her career in medicine.
"I had to repeat my training here ... I had my education in Belarus ... I had to prove myself and go through six years of training," Sycheva said. "It wasn't an easy road, especially since I was not from here and my language skills were not that great."
Sycheva has long since mastered English and her field of medical expertise, however, and is enjoying her time in Anniston.
"Things are very good for me these days and I feel like my life is here now," she said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.